Full Circle

Posted: June 21st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 65 Comments »

Back in 2003 I was a very serious Eagles fan, but I didn’t do any writing. I had thought about starting a website, although that was more to write about the draft than the Eagles. It never really occurred to me that I would have people who wanted to know my thoughts on the Eagles. The draft was a different story. There were no internet videos back then. I taped games relentlessly and then studied them and wrote notes on hundreds of prospects. I didn’t post them anywhere, but that was okay. I did it for my own curiosity and then shared my thoughts with other football fans that I talked to.

The Eagles had a pair of top free agents in the 2003 offseason, DE Hugh Douglas and OLB Shawn Barber. I did not want the team to lose either guy. Hugh was one of my favorite players. He was a terrific DE and also had a great personality. Hugh made football fun. He was easily the team’s top pass rusher so it was critical to keep him. Barber was coming off his only season as an Eagle and had been a stud at WLB. He was fast and made plays, just what you want from that position.

I lived in NC (as I still do) and there wasn’t a lot of news on the status of Douglas and Barber as we headed to free agency. I was desperate to get some info. It occurred to me that Philly radio and TV might have some good rumors so I decided to join the Eagles Message Board. Surely some die-hard fans would be willing to share nuggets with those of us long distance fans.

As I read various threads looking for my info, I noticed questions from other fans that I knew the answer to. I began answering questions. I went back the next day and answered more. And more the next day. It wasn’t too much longer before I began starting threads on free agency and the draft. That’s how I began writing about the Eagles. The person most responsible for that is Hugh Douglas. And that makes this so funny.

Hugh is referring to a piece I wrote for PE.com on the Top 10 DL of the past 30 years. The Fletcher Cox contract extension got all of us to thinking about where he currently stood among the best Eagles D-linemen and where he might finish.

Here is my Top 10

1. Reggie White
2. Jerome Brown
3. Clyde Simmons
4. Trent Cole
5. Fletcher Cox
6. Corey Simon
7. William Fuller
8. Hugh Douglas
9. Andy Harmon
10. Hollis Thomas

I wrote out some thoughts in the piece. I’ll share some more here.

The top two guys are obvious. Go read the piece for my thoughts on them. Things get tricky after that. You have to understand that all of these players are really good. The Eagles have had a lot of good DL over the years.

I went with Simmons #3 because he was so good from 1989-1992. He started all 64 games and had 55 sacks in that span. The defense was outstanding in those years, including the amazing 1991 season. Simmons played for the Eagles for 8 years and had 76 sacks in his career, which is 3rd all time in team history. Simmons also made some crazy plays. He picked off 2 passes and scored 4 TDs with the Eagles.

Cole was next on the list. If we’re going strictly on talent, Cole shouldn’t be this high. Hugh was more talented. Cole got ranked that high for a couple of reasons. First, he played 10 years and I do think longevity counts when doing these rankings. Cole started 145 games for the Eagles and was a rock for the DL. Every week you knew #58 would be the RDE and would play as if his life depended on it. He had 85.5 sacks in his Eagles career, second only to Reggie in team history.

I also went with Cole that high because he was a terrific run defender. He was tough when run plays came at him and relentless in chasing the ball when plays went away from him. Hugh was a good run defender in his own right, but Cole was outstanding.

Corey Simon at #6 is the ranking I’m sure that most find questionable so let’s talk about this. I am not a fan of Corey Simon the person. The Eagles put the franchise tag on him after the 2004 season. It became evident he wasn’t coming back so the Eagles negotiated a trade with the Ravens. The Eagles would get a 2nd and 3rd round pick in return. That was exciting news. Unfortunately Simon would not agree to a deal with the Ravens (who were offering good money) so the trade was off. Other teams wouldn’t bite so the Eagles rescinded the tag and Simon signed with the Colts.

Jerk.

It is easy to focus on the nasty end with Simon and forget how good he was early on. Simon was drafted 6th overall in 2000 and that wasn’t an accident. He was a dominant player at Florida State. I was ecstatic when the Eagles took him. The DL needed a stud in the middle. Hollis Thomas was a good run defender, but a limited playmaker. Simon had the quickness to get off the ball and make plays in the backfield.

As a rookie, Simon had 9.5 sacks and 2 FFs. Jerome Brown’s best season…10.5 sacks, no FFs. In fact, Brown never had a FF in his career, which amazes me with how disruptive he was. Don’t look at the stats and think I’m saying Simon was as good as Brown. I just want you to realize how good Simon was at one point. In his second year, he had 7.5 sacks and 4 FFs. That’s a big FF total for a DT.

I didn’t rely solely on memories when compiling this list. I went back and watched old games to make sure I was fair to all the players. I forgot just how quick and disruptive Simon was at his peak. I think one thing that hurt Simon was the emergence of Darwin Walker in 2002. The problem is that both Simon and Walker were best suited at 3-technique. Neither guy liked doing the dirty work of taking on double teams. Simon was at his best playing beside Hollis Thomas, who was a NT.

In the wild card game vs Tampa after the 2000 season, John Madden talked about how Simon was going to be a “special DT” and great player. Simon was quick, athletic and disruptive. He was in excellent shape and looked worlds different from the guy who played in the Super Bowl. Simon of 2000-01 was a terrific DT. Instead of building on that and becoming a great player, he flat-lined. He was a good starter for all 5 years, but he never became what was expected.

Simon started 78 of 80 games for the Eagles. The team was Top 10 in scoring defense in each of those years and Top 10 in yards allowed in 4 of the 5 seasons. Simon racked up 32 sacks and 8 FFs, both excellent totals for a DT. Simon went to one Pro Bowl and was considered one of the best DTs in the league in each of those seasons.

While he didn’t turn out to be the great player we expected, Simon was a good player for the Eagles. He was outstanding early on and a big reason the Eagles defense was so good from 2000-2004.

William Fuller is one of my favorite Eagles. He wasn’t huge or a great athlete, but was a tough, productive player from 1994-1996. He played with a lot of different linemen in 3 years.

Greg Townsend
Refrigerator Perry
Burt Grossman
Leonard Renfro
Mike Mamula
Rhett Hall
Kevin Johnson
Ronnie Dixon
Daniel Stubbs
Hollis Thomas
Greg Jefferson
Darrion Conner

Andy Harmon started in 1994 and 1995, but was hurt in 1996. Despite playing with that interesting cast of characters, the Eagles finished Top 5 in the league in defense each year and Fuller was a key reason. He had 35.5 sacks and 12 FFs in that span. He also was the foundation of the run defense, by anchoring against TEs and RTs on a regular basis. Fuller was a Pro Bowl player in each of his seasons as an Eagle. The only downside to him is a lack of longevity.

I have Hugh in the #8 spot. You can easily make an argument for him to go higher. He was an excellent pass rusher. I loved the fact he used to get down in a 4-point stance. So many guys wanted to get in a track stance. Hugh squatted down and then exploded at the snap. It made him fun to watch because he wasn’t just a cookie cutter player. He was Hugh. And very good. He went to the Pro Bowl from 2000-2002 and had 37 sacks in that span. Hugh never had a stud pass rusher on the opposite side of him. Simon pushed the pocket up the middle, but the Eagles weren’t loaded with pass rushers aside from them.

Harmon was a terrific interior pass rusher. He was 6-4, 280, which is an unusual build for a DT. Harmon played DE in college and was drafted to be a DE. He wasn’t a stout run defender, but was an active, disruptive DT. Harmon has more sacks than any DT in Eagles history with 39.5.

I went with Thomas to round out the list. He is the only guy here who was primarily a run defender. You could make an argument that Mike Patterson should have this spot, but I went with Thomas since he showed the ability to make some plays and be a run stuffer. Thomas came into the league about 310 pounds. He was slightly bigger than than when he played his final season with the Eagles in 2005. Early on, Thomas had some quickness and could make plays.

The key thing to remember in this discussion is that there is no right and wrong. Reggie and Jerome are the top two. After that, you can make a lot of different arguments based on how you look at things.

The biggest takeaway for me is that we’ve been very lucky over the years. The Eagles have had a lot of outstanding DL. I can’t wait to see this year’s group and how they play in the 4-3. Should be a lot of fun.

Oh…and some good news. Hugh won’t be hunting me down.

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Happy Father’s Day

Posted: June 19th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 102 Comments »

Football and fathers go hand in hand. Many people become fans while watching games with their dad. I learned to love the game of football from my dad. He was a little league coach and I attended games in my stroller. I’m sure between sips of Tang (or whatever infants drank in 1970-72) I was yelling for him to run Flip 90, the greatest of all plays.

My parents divorced while I was young so I didn’t grow up watching a lot of games with my dad. We were together each year around Christmas so we watched plenty of bowl games and some NFL action, but for most of the year I was on my own. Sort of.

I was lucky enough to have some Football Dads who helped me to learn and love the game. First and foremost, John Madden. Many of you younger fans will scoff at the idea of John Madden being important to anyone. I learned more about the game of football from listening to him than anyone else. And it isn’t even close. He is the greatest football announcer of all time. I don’t think there is even a 2nd place.

I get the fact that many now think of him as the guy who loved Brett Favre and felt a bit cartoonish with what he said and did. But that’s like judging Johnny Unitas on his time with the Chargers or Donovan McNabb on his time with the Vikings.

In his prime, Madden brought a passion for the game and combined that with an expertise that I had never heard before. He was fun and smart. He talked about OL play at a time when not many people discussed the big uglies. Madden shared great stories and had interesting opinions. Vince Lombardi was the greatest coach of all time. Joe Namath was the toughest QB he ever coached against. The hardest points to score are the first of the game. More than anything else, Safeties must be able to tackle. And so on. Every Madden game was an education for me.

Another huge influence for me was Steve Spurrier. I lived in Durham, NC when Spurrier was hired by Duke in 1980. Duke football wasn’t all that exciting back then, but Spurrier brought an aggressive passing game and suddenly the Blue Devils were interesting to follow. Spurrier opened my eyes to the value of the passing game. Football was different back then. Georgia won the 1980 national title. In the Sugar Bowl, they threw 13 passes, one by a RB.

Spurrier left Duke and went to Tampa Bay in the USFL, which made me a fan of the Tampa Bay Bandits. I watched as many of their games as I could. That was a glorious time.

(best YouTube video I’ve seen in a long time)

Eventually Spurrier returned to Duke as the head coach and I continued to learn the passing game from him. And the greatness of Arby’s.

I’ve written a lot over the years about my love of Tom Landry. I still have no idea why he fascinated me the way he did. It might simply have been the fact he reminded me of someone’s grandad, but was arguably the best football coach in the world. Reading about how he developed the 4-3 defense while an assistant with the NY Giants taught me a lot about the evolution of the game.

Landry made me a fan of the 4-3. Buddy Ryan took things to the next level with his 46 Defense. He made me love X’s and O’s in a way I never had.

Mike Singletary Chicago BearsJanuary 27, 1986S 587credit:  Bill Smith - spec

Instead of a simple 4-3, you had an Under defense with a LB stack, an eighth man in the box and all kinds of shifting responsibilities. Buddy Ryan was the football version of Beethoven. There was a combination of simple and complex ideas mixed together in such a way as to overwhelm the mind and senses. The 1985 Bears defense was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in sports. They were brutal and brilliant. They were violent and versatile. They were mind-blowing.

Buddy is the first defensive coach (any only one I can think of) whose first goal was for his guys to score. Think about that. Buddy wanted his defense to score. That is so cocky. And unorthodox. And genius. He assumed his defense would stop the offense. He was focused on taking the ball away and then trying to score points.

When Buddy became coach of the Eagles in 1986, that led me to become an Eagles fan. If he hadn’t come to Philly, I have no idea what NFL team I would be following. Maybe I would be writing about the Sixers (my first Philly love) or even the Flyers (my second Philly love). Or maybe I would have moved away from sports and focused my writing on the career of Dennis Farina, the greatest actor of the past 500 years.

I have to also offer thanks to the men who coached me on the game. Gene Brewer, Kim Cain, Melvin Braswell, Randy Ledford and Robert Rice all helped to teach me about the game of football on a personal level. Coach Brewer and Coach Ledford have passed on and the world is a worse place without them.

I was fortunate enough to spend time with coaches like David Knauss, Ruffin McNeilll and John Wiley while I was a student at Appalachian State University. They continued my football education, and at a more advanced level.

I am jealous of those of you who watched Eagles games with your dad and learned to love the team that way. That’s a special bond I’ll never know. At the same time, I am grateful to the men who helped me fall in love with the game of football and learn about it from a variety of angles. I would not be the person I am today (for better or worse) without their wisdom and influence.

buddy_ryan_1987_12_27

*****

If you haven’t watched the 30 for 30 special on the 1985 Bears, do it. The relationship between Buddy and his players is special. Watching Buddy and Mike Singletary is hard to describe. It really is like watching a father and son. There is genuine love between those two. Incredibly moving.

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Tulloch a Target?

Posted: June 18th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 33 Comments »

Jordan Hicks had a great rookie year. Until he got hurt. Hicks suffered a pectoral injury and missed the final 8 games of the season. The Eagles went 3-5 in that stretch and allowed 38 or more points in half of those games. The team hadn’t given up more than 27 points in a game with Hicks in the lineup. That’s not all on losing Hicks, but he was a factor in the early success of the defense.

Hicks is healthy now and ready to be the Eagles starting MLB. Expectations are high, as long as he stays healthy.

“I’ve been encouraged by Jordan,” linebackers coach Ken Flajole said. “He’s a sharp young man. I think he likes the leadership role that he has to assume as the middle linebacker in this defense. His big deal is just staying healthy. I think he’s worked hard to do that. Hopefully he’ll have a great season and stay healthy. If he can stay healthy, I think he’s going to be ready to have a great year for us.”

What happens if Hicks can’t stay healthy?

The backup MLB for now is Joe Walker, who the team took in the 7th round this year. He’s been up and down this spring, basically looking like most rookies. You can see his talent, but also his issues. The Eagles will be taking a risk if they go into the season with Walker as the backup MLB. He’s new to the NFL. He’s new to the 4-3. And this isn’t exactly the easiest scheme on MLBs. The DL attacks rather than eating up blockers to protect the LBs.

Najee Goode is a veteran backup. He played ILB in the 3-4, but is more of a natural WLB in the 4-3. The Eagles could try him in the middle. Goode isn’t at his best when taking on blockers and playing in traffic. He is more effective when allowed to operate in space.

One option for the Eagles could be going after Stephen Tulloch.

Tulloch will be hitting the market soon.

Should he be a target?

That’s a bit of a complicated question. The simple answer is yes, the Eagles should talk to Tulloch. The problem is that they need him as a backup and Tulloch sees himself as a starting LB. After looking at some depth charts, there are teams out there who could offer Tulloch a chance to start.

The Eagles could tell Tulloch he would be competing for a starting job here (and mean it), but it doesn’t take a genius to know the team wants Hicks on the field. Finding MLBs who can make plays isn’t easy and Hicks showed that ability as a rookie, coming up with a FF, 3 FR and 2 INTs. Hicks is also young and cheap so the team wants him to be the MLB.

Tulloch is 31 and about to play his 11th NFL season. He suffered a knee injury in 2014 and that affected his play into last year. The Lions took him out on passing downs and had Tulloch focus on run defense. That (and time to fully recover) helped bring out the best in him in the second half of the season. Tulloch is still a good 2-down LB. He diagnoses plays well. He can shed blocks. He is disciplined. Tulloch still tackles well and has some pop when he hits runners. Between the tackles, Tulloch is just fine.

Tulloch isn’t as effective when the ball goes outside or he has to play in space. He’s just not as athletic as he once was. Think of him as DeMeco Ryans by another name.

It is possible that the teams with “holes” at LB are trying to go the young/cheap route and wouldn’t have interest in Tulloch. If that is the case, the Eagles could be an interesting option for him. Tulloch was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2006. Their DC was some guy named Jim Schwartz. When Schwartz went to Detroit as head coach, he signed Tulloch as a free agent. Obviously those two have a good relationship.

Tulloch could also see Hicks durability as a reason to come to Philly. Hicks only played half of last season. He only played in 7 games combined in 2012 and 2013.

I could see Tulloch sitting tight for a while and waiting for some preseason injuries. That might give him better options that what he currently has. Tulloch is a smart, veteran MLB. He can learn a scheme pretty quickly. There is no need for him to run sign a deal with someone the minute he officially hits the market. He would be smart to take his time.

As far as the Eagles and the backup MLB spot, this is not a situation to worry about right now. The team needs to see how Joe Walker looks at Training Camp. If he struggles mightily, they need to make a move. If he’s better, they can roll the dice and stick with him as the backup. One thing you have to remember is that there are going to be weak spots on every team. Having a rookie as your backup MLB is very different than not having a LT or QB or CB.

I’ll be interested to see where Tulloch ends up and also who is the backup MLB for the Eagles. If I had to guess right now, I’d say Tulloch won’t be an Eagle and the backup MLB won’t be Walker. He feels more like a practice squad player right now, but we’ll see. The Eagles are going to give him a chance to show what he can do.

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Howie and Fletch Meet the Media

Posted: June 16th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 129 Comments »

After signing Fletcher Cox to a mega-deal, the Eagles had to have a press conference. That took place on Thursday. Lots of smiles. Lots of congratulations to go around. Fun for the whole family, basically.

Cox didn’t say anything all that noteworthy. He thanked everyone and talked about being excited for the upcoming season. About the most interesting thing to me was when he told Dave Spadaro that a big night for him is testing one of his race cars at the track. Is that really the hobby you want your star DL to have? What’s wrong with downloading pics of Megan Fox or sending hateful emails to Jimmy Bama (my biggest hobbies)?

Howie Roseman was much more interesting. He talked about the importance of keeping core players together and mentioned continuity as being a huge part of the success the Eagles had from 1999-2008. Howie mentioned there had been too much change in recent years, but rather than have that be a dig at Chip Kelly, took responsibility for some of the change.

You can really tell that Jeff Lurie had a long talk with Howie about what he wanted this year and into the future. Taking responsibility must have been one of the focal points because Howie has done that over and over. Kelly drove us all nuts with the way he used semantics to avoid responsibility or just shift the conversation to a pointless subject. Howie has not done that once this offseason. Just the opposite. He’s been busy praising those around him, even Kelly a time or two, and taking his share of the blame whenever there is a negative issue.

This really is a smart tactic, even when there is no need to take blame for something. You diffuse situations and also look like the better person when you take the blame. Andy Reid did this for years and it got him the respect and loyalty of those around him, both players and coaches.

Howie told a good story about the drafting of Cox. Go to the 13:00 mark of the PE.com video to hear the story of moving up for Cox, but also being tempted to move back when a compelling offer was made.

Someone asked Howie if the Eagles and Cox were ever far apart in negotiations and Howie admitted they were at one point. It almost sounded like the Eagles realized the market was out of whack and just realized that if they wanted to keep Cox around, they were going to have to pay him huge bucks and deal with the consequences.

A couple of people had questions about the Eagles wanting to keep guys off a team that went 7-9 and hasn’t made the playoffs in 2 straight years. Were the players really worth keeping around? Were they that good?

Yes and yes.

The Eagles won 6 and 3 games in the seasons prior to Reid taking over. He could have easily gotten rid of everyone, but wisely chose to build rather than to tear apart. He and Tom Modrak worked hard to identify good players already on the roster and they gave those players new deals or extensions.

Troy Vincent
Bobby Taylor
Brian Dawkins
Jermane Mayberry
Duce Staley
Brandon Whiting
Hollis Thomas
Chad Lewis

Not all of these players were given new deals right away. Some took a year or two. The point is that management was smart enough to understand poor performance by the team didn’t mean the roster was devoid of talent. The same is true now. The Eagles have some terrific players. I think keeping many of them is a no-brainer. Did anyone not approve of Zach Ertz or Vinny Curry getting an extension? The only real questionable deal is the re-signing of Sam Bradford. There is logic to the Eagles decision to pay him, but time will tell if that was the right decision.

Howie did mention to Spadaro the cap situation will be tight over the next couple of years. He also talked about the fact that there are some other young players on the roster the team would like to extend. You have to think he’s talking about Jordan Matthews and Bennie Logan. I’d love to keep both guys around, but we really need to see them in the new schemes to know their true value. I think Matthews will be about the same player, but Logan could play at a higher level now that he’ll be turned loose.

The Eagles made a great move to get Cox’s deal done. He’s happy and ready to go. The team can now relax a bit before getting ready for Training Camp.

*****

Cox and Roseman were asked about the Nelson Agholor situation. Cox stuck by the statement he made the other day. Roseman declined comment since there is an active investigation.

I haven’t said anything on it myself.

I honestly don’t know anything you don’t so there is no point in me speculating on such a serious issue.

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Practice vs Practice

Posted: June 14th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 179 Comments »

Chip Kelly ran football practice unlike any other football coach. He wanted reps. Coaching and teaching were to be done in the classroom. The field was all about reps, good, bad or indifferent.

This isn’t a dumb idea. Kelly likes to keep things basic and then wants his players to perfect their performance by getting rep after rep after rep. It makes sense that the more you do something, the better you should get at it. That may not be true of every endeavor in life, but understand that NFL players are the best in the world at what they do and they have excellent supervision.

While there is logic to Kelly’s thinking, that doesn’t make it the best way of doing things. With Kelly gone, some players are speaking up. Check out this piece by Robert Klemko of MMQB.

I think I enjoyed my day-trip to Philadelphia last week to watch the burgeoning QB competition between Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz and to get a feel for what practices will be like under Doug Pederson, whose coaching style appears to lean closer to Andy Reid than Chip Kelly. No more deafening techno at the NovaCare facility; just modern hip-hop, at a moderate volume. And rather than players going nonstop in five or six groups at once, there’s a lot more standing around and listening. It seems to be a welcome change for the vets. Here’s cornerback Nolan Carroll: “Things are a lot more slowed down this year compared to last year. They don’t want to give us a bunch of information and throw you on the field; that’s like a wasted day. I understand his mindset from last year. He wanted us to not think and just react, but guys need the mental reps first.” I wonder if Chip can hear that 2,500 miles away in San Francisco…

It is especially interesting that these comments come from Carroll. He was a player signed under Kelly. He and Kelly seemed to have a great relationship and Kelly constantly praised Carroll last offseason. Carroll started 11 games and played well for Kelly. These comments aren’t coming from someone with an agenda against Kelly. That gives them more weight.

I think one thing that hurts Kelly is that coaches and players are used to standard football practice. When introduced to his system, there is a bit of a shock factor. Players and coaches have spent all their lives doing something a certain way and now must adapt to an unorthodox system. There is no doubt that not all of them buy in.

You also wonder if coaches who aren’t used to that style can be effective teachers when working like that. It is much easier to do that at the collegiate level, where you don’t have the same expectation levels and other factors. Teaching a college player to beat the man across from him is different than doing that in the NFL. You can teach a DE to beat the Cal LT easier than you can teach a DE to beat Tyron Smith. Covering Kenny Lawler is easier than covering Odell Beckham. And so on. Details mean more in the NFL. Trying to teach details might be tougher in a split field-classroom system than in the standard style of practice.

Or it might not.

It is possible Kelly’s methods felt less effective to some people because there were so unorthodox when in reality, the results were about the same. Kelly went 10-6, 10-6 and 7-9 as coach. It isn’t as if his tenure was some huge failure. It just didn’t turn out as hoped.

I don’t know if there will be any way to truly know which style of practice is better. It will be interesting to see how the players perform this season. That won’t necessarily give us an answer, but it could offer a hint.

*****

I do have a theory that just occurred to me. I need to do a bit of research before sharing it.

*****

Need a good laugh? Here you go.

Enjoy.

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